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Manhattan Loft Guy

Aug. 3, 2006 - a secretary + a boss + a sketchy president + a maritime afterthought = Mad Sq / Times tours Mad Sq statues

 
I am thinking that Madison Square Park is the loft-neighborhood park with the greatest number of historic statues....
The NY Times a while back ran a feature about statues in parks that started with a Tompkins Square statue of a Congressman beloved by postal workers (!), then followed with three (the four) statues in Madison Square.
 
Mad Sq statues of 3 19th C giants, one short guy
The Mad Sq lineup includes William Seward at the corner of 23rd and Broadway. Seward is said to be by the Times “to be the first person born in New YorkState to be honored by the city with a monument. Seward earned it; he was secretary of state during the Civil War, surely one of the more stressful jobs in human history”, but the (apocryphal?) story I have heard is that this statue was built as an Abraham Lincoln but Seward’s head was added late. “They” say the large hands are the Lincoln give-away. NY Songlines agrees that a Lincoln cast was used, citing as evidence that Seward was really quite short.
 
Near Seward stands a Republican giant.
 
The undisputed king of the New York Republican political machine, Senator Conkling played a critical role in one of the most hotly contested presidential elections in history. In 1880, James A. Garfield -- a man who enjoyed not one-tenth of Conkling's fame -- was elected president and took with him to Washington as his vice president an even less well-known former customs collector for the Port of New York named Chester Alan Arthur. Were it not for Conkling, Arthur would be even more of a footnote in history than he is.
 
Conkling was a US senator and representative, but the NYC connection I am aware of is that he died in the Blizzard of 1888, trying to walk home. I have been told that he lived near Madison Square and died there (so close to home) but Forgotten-NY thinks he died in Union Square, but was denied a statue there because he did not rank with Lincoln, Washington and Lafayette – so he was relegated uptown to Madison Square.
 
‘sketchy’ Pres with good taste
As everyone knows  Arthur was the 21st President, following the death by bullet of James Garfield. His statue is near the playground at the corner near 26th and Madison. Arthur is the ‘sketchy’ President from Vermont, though he developed important New York City connections, having been Commissioner of Customs and Quartermaster General for New York during the Civil War.
 
He was in many ways a man of his times, and that included a tacit understanding that bribes and kickbacks were as important a part of politics as campaigns and conventions.
 
The Times follows with the sort of left-handed compliment that Republican Presidents would love to still get:
 
[On the one hand] Most people agree that though Arthur was one of our least important presidents, [but on the other hand] he did have great taste; among other things, he hired Louis Comfort Tiffany to help refurbish the interior of the White House.
 
… though he disappointed his patrons
That is quite a redeeming feature for a President, non? But they do give Arthur his due (unlike his contemporaries):
 
In 1883 he became a champion of the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act, which guaranteed that government jobs were handed out based on merit and not political connections. Old friends of his, including Conkling, ostracized him, and he was not renominated in 1884.
 
Damn the oversight, there’s more
As an addendum, the Times noted that there is also a statue in Mad Sq to Civil War admiral David Farragut. I believe he is the “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” guy. He stands on a monumental pedestal along 26th Street in mid-block.
 
© Sandy Mattingly 2006
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Sandy Mattingly is Manhattan Loft Guy; now with The Corcoran Group (http://corcoran.com/ ; but see the disclaimer at the bottom of the page), he can be reached most easily at Sandy@ManhattanLoftGuy.com or 917.902.2491, and followed on Twitter @ManhattnLoftGuy (note "mis-spelling"). After 7+ years, the blog has moved. Links here on RealTown will work for the foreseeable future, but new posts (and all the old content) has migrated to ManhattanLoftGuy.com.

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